3D graphics design has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years; at least if the current boom in animated movies and computer games is any indication. But interoperability problems between the software tools used to create the content remain a bottleneck. Uni-Verse is helping unblock the content pipeline.
This IST-funded project has created the first open internet-based platform for multi-user, distributed 3D graphics design, one that allows both proprietary and open-source content-creation tools to interoperate efficiently. By eliminating the need for manual conversion of incompatible files, the system smoothes out the entire design process, helps prevent mistakes and ultimately saves design studios time and money. It also allows designers to cooperate more efficiently regardless of their location and the tools they use.
“There are two ways to solve the software incompatibility bottleneck. One is to use only the tools provided by the same company, which ensures interoperability but locks design studios to a certain set of software. The other option, and the approach we have taken, is to make the output of different tools compatible by automatically ensuring it can be used with another tool without the need to manually convert it,” explains Uni-Verse coordinator Gert Svensson of KTH in Sweden.
The Uni-Verse platform is built on the Verse protocol, a lightweight, low latency, general-purpose network protocol for 3D data, which lets multiple applications act together as a single system by sharing data over a network. The Uni-Verse partners have created modelling and rendering tools designed specifically to take advantage of the features of the Verse protocol. They have rewritten the code of open-source design tools, such as Blender, to employ the Verse compatibility features. And they have created Verse software plug-ins for popular proprietary design tools such as 3D Studio Max.
Near real-time design cooperation
Because the platform is internet-based, designers can work on the same project more or less simultaneously in multiple locations. “The protocol is fairly efficient and bandwidth use is kept low. Only at the start is the whole model downloaded, after that only the changes are sent to the server, so network demand is not a major problem,” Svensson says.
“The principal problem for many designers is that they cannot directly see the end result of what they are doing. An artist creating a texture for a 3D model is essentially working blind. They are designing the texture in 2D, then have to convert and render it onto the model in 3D. Often they find out that it is not quite right and have to redo it,” Svensson says. “Uni-Verse automatically converts and adds their texture to the model so they are able to see the results directly and make changes on the spot. Such speed-ups are possible at every stage of the design process.”
The benefits of the platform are evident for design studios working in the more demanding video sectors such animated film, computer games and virtual reality. However, the Uni-Verse platform also offers advantages in the architectural design industry. One feature incorporated by the project partners is the ability to carry out acoustic modelling at the same time as visual modelling.
Most architectural firms today use external specialists to analyse the acoustics of a building design at a late stage in the design process. This can lead to the plans being extensively reworked later on. The Uni-Verse platform allows acoustic modelling tools to be used from the very beginning, giving designers an idea of the acoustic properties of a building from the start, and reducing the risk of subsequent modifications.
World’s first open-source produced movie
An early version of the Uni-Verse platform has already been used in the Blender Foundation’s Orange Project that created Elephants Dream, the world’s first movie made entirely with open-source graphics software.
It is also being employed by one of the project partners in the creation of a new computer game, the design of which, Svensson says, is going much faster than it would without the platform. The system will also be used in a trial later this year at an architectural studio in Hungary.
“There is a lot of interest in this platform. We were at the recent SIGGRAPH tradeshow in Boston and the general consensus among people working in the 3D design industry is that Uni-Verse solves a technological problem that is extremely important in the sector,” he says.
Several large software firms as well as major users of their tools have expressed interest in the platform, the bulk of which the project partners plan to maintain as open source. However they may also choose to establish a spin-off company to commercialise specific elements and provide integration services.
Center for Parallel Computers
Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)
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Source: Based on information from Uni-Verse